Tuesday, October 17, 2006

LS: Put It On the Bottom Shelf

I’m blessed with a hyperactive child named Gwynneth. Eight-years-old, she’s already perfected a British accent and a Popeye face, and she makes me laugh at her antics. We call her Lucille Ball in the making. Sometimes, however, when the little hand on the clock approaches eight and her volume approaches Harley Davidson, we all cringe and Will, my husband, will point at her and say, “Gwynnie, put the crazy on the bottom shelf.” And the rest of us breathe a sigh of relief.

Lately, I’ve been reading quite a bit of Flannery O’Connor. Essays mostly. Flannery O’Connor, a southern novelist, essayist, and writer was a “Christian novelist” before anyone thought there could be such a thing. She called herself, “a novelist with Christian concerns”, a description I find far more appealing. Recently, I’ve been centering my thoughts on “the novel as art.” This serves as a distillation of my calling, for a painter can only paint a picture and hope the work will compel those who’ve experienced his art to a higher purpose, a deeper appreciation of beauty, a greater love of truth. And as novelists we are called to provide much the same. O’Connor wrote in her essay, The Aim and Nature of Fiction, “ . . . all I mean of art is writing something that is valuable in itself and that works in itself. The basis of art is truth, both in matter and in mode. The person who aims after art in his work aims after truth, in an imaginative sense, no more and no less.”

So are novels by writers “with Christian concerns” vehicles for our agendas, our dogma, and our beliefs? Ideally, no. Practically speaking, yes. Because for all the glorified talk of art, we would be hard pressed to effectively banish our beliefs. How then do we aim after truth by aiming after art? The answer could be rather simple.

Let go. Or in Gwynnie lingo, put the agenda on the bottom shelf.

While most of us would love to come at our work with definite messages in place, I’ve come to the conclusion from discussions with other novelists, that normally, we end up finding out the deeper messages of our work after we’ve finished. How absolutely lovely; how organic; how creative. When I hear these words, “I want to write fiction so that I can present the gospel in a way which will really speak to people’s hearts,” my first reaction is to cringe. But then the practical side of me takes over and admits we all approach almost anything we do with an agenda. So then, as best you can, remove your agenda during the creative process, and remove yourself while you’re at it, and so let God have his way through your art.

What freedom!

In that frame of mind, you are on your way to creating something truthful, honest, compelling and even more honoring to the God who created you to create. “We are his workmanship, created for good works in Christ.” Trust God to reveal His message through you, within your art, and you may find you have revealed a deeper truth in a more honest way than you believed possible, a truth you may not have realized before. For those of us who’ve been around the block a few times, the industry can make this a bit difficult – what with questions like, “What is the redemptive factor in this book?” or “What is the ‘take-home’ value?” asked during the proposal process. The most encouraging answer publishers could receive if they the ears to listen would be, “How should know? I haven’t written it yet!”

Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I’m hoping that one day novelists with Christian concerns publishing for the Christian market aren’t forced to make up answers to questions they shouldn’t have to entertain; that one day, we can put those on the bottom shelf as well.

Pax Christi,


Lisa Samson
Author of The Church Ladies and Straight Up


At 10:19 AM, Blogger Michael said...


No matter what style of writing you choose to write with, I always enjoy your words.

Take Care

At 10:57 AM, Blogger Jeanne Damoff said...

How refreshing, Lisa! Thanks.

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

This is so strange..."Charis" is my daughter's name. :-)

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

God is moving this year. Great blog. Great entry, Lisa.

At 9:43 PM, Blogger Katy said...

I can tell already that I'm going to love this blog! Thanks, Lisa!

At 5:11 PM, Blogger Sarah Anne Sumpolec said...

Love this!

When I sat down to do a read through on my last book I remember finishing it and thinking, "Wow, it talks about forgiveness!" because I had never set out to do that, the story just ended up there.

It's nice to see someone else talk about the fact that it's okay to do it that way:-)

At 11:53 PM, Blogger batgirl said...

Wonderful post, Lisa. Thank you. I wonder how often our "agenda insertion" is just an attempt to ease the guilt of those of us who haven't quite accepted the fact that it's okay to write fiction. Maybe sticking a "message" in there is a way of justifying what we do. Thought-provoking!

At 9:32 AM, Blogger Tina Ann Forkner said...

Great post Lisa. I find God's agenda coming out in my writing most when I stop worrying about what I'm "supposed" to be saying. Sometimes it amazes me when my husband or a friend points out a certain meaning that I am quite sure I didn't initially try to put in there. :)

And Sarah, you are not alone! ;)

At 10:33 AM, Blogger ~michelle pendergrass said...

Dee said, "God is moving this year."


Since we share the mind of Christ, it shouldn't have to be discovered that God has put in our hearts the overwhelming urge to break out of the chains and cages people have locked us up with. We should just be obedient.

At 10:44 AM, Blogger Heather said...

Thank you for verbalizing this so well. Bach reflected God in all he did, whether the music contained scripture or just the notes of a fugue.
This is not just writers, it is everywhere. We want to incarnate Christ, but we don't always want to read through the Romans road with every stranger.

At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, and so true.

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Great post, Lisa. Thanks. You sure your name isn't Lisa Solomon? :)

At 11:36 PM, Blogger Lynette Sowell said...

THANK YOU for making me feel like I shouldn't have to apologize for entertaining. I just wrote my press release and I wondered if I 'watered down' my faith. And I don't think I did.

I do the best I can, study the craft, and keep working to write the best stories I can. If I can make someone's lunch hour brighter, and even show a glimmer of God's grace, that's wonderful too. :)

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Myra Johnson said...

"Trust God to reveal His message through you, within your art, and you may find you have revealed a deeper truth in a more honest way than you believed possible, a truth you may not have realized before." --- Wonderful insight, Lisa! And so true of how the process of writing works if we only allow it.


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